Everyone has already reviewed the iPhone 7, all its features and flaws. But reviews that come out at the same time as a new device are really just based on initial impressions. How you think and feel about a brand new phone changes over time as you use it. Small things that either delight or annoy you often take time to reveal themselves. I’ve now spent over two weeks with the iPhone 7 Plus now, using it as my primary (and only) phone for hours each day and wanted to share my impressions. I also know that how I feel about the phone will continue to evolve, so having something written down also serves as a reference point for me to look back on.
I didn’t really need a new phone. I’ve been using mobile phones for over 20 years now and the iPhone 6 is the first phone I’ve kept longer than a year. In fact I kept it for nearly 2 full years. It was fine, but I decided to upgrade anyways, to an iPhone 7 Plus. I had a few reservations about upgrading. Would I hate the larger size and find it awkward? What about missing headphone jack?
The Headphone Jack
Not since the loss of optical drives in the Macbook Pro, or floppy drives in PCs have I seen the removal of a feature so talked about. I use headphones daily, and spend a lot of time and money following the space in pursuit of the perfect setup (see my other article on that for an example of my obsessiveness). But this is one of the first times that a feature has been taken away from smartphones, or an iPhone. Features always get added, never removed.
Truth is, on the first day I noticed the lack of the headphone jack. I had to hunt around in the iPhone box to find the new little dongle which goes from a 3.5mm headphone to Lightning. Never one to waste space, Apple had cleverly stuck it on the back of the cardboard that holds their new Lightning connected earpods. But since I first put the dongle onto the end of my daily pair of headphones (Bose QC20i), I haven’t noticed it since. In fact what I’ve experienced is an improvement in usability.
- Plugging headphones in via Lightning is a more secure connection than with a 3.5mm headphone jack, they are much less likely to come loose when the phone is put into a jacket pocket for instance.
- While 3.5mm headphone jacks are standard, there are various types of connectors on the end of headphones. Some are straight, some have a right angle in them (like the Bose QC20i), and this causes problems with cases. On my iPhone 6, I used the Apple Smart Battery Case, and had to attach an extension adapter to the QC20is to get them to fit through the case. Cases are optimized better for Lightning connections because they’re all the same.
As for the complaint that it now requires an extra dongle to both charge and use headphones at the same time, see the later second on battery life for why I don’t think that’s even an issue.
The Screen Size and Form Factor
My last 3 phones have all had increasingly bigger screens. An iPhone 5, to a 6, to a 7 Plus. Each time I am concerned that the new size will be too big. Then after a day or two using the new device I grow to appreciate the larger screen size and real estate, and the previous phone feels childishly small. The added bulk and weight of the Apple Smart Battery case on the iPhone 6 I was using may have made the transition up to an iPhone 7 Plus that much easier.
One handed usage of the iPhone 7 Plus vs the iPhone 6 (or 7) does take a bit of adjustment. It’s helped out quite a lot by having a thin case on the phone. I could see it being a problem for people that have smaller hands.
I tried out a number of cases, including the Apple Silicone case, but found the Speck Presidio Grip Case to be the best one out there. Having the small grip strips helps for one handed usage, especially as your pinky/little finger can get a much better grip on the phone when sliding your hand midway up the case. The Apple case (along with many other ones) also suffers from using a silicone material that while it feels nice, attracts a tremendous amount of dust and lint when put into pockets.
The Best Feature - Speed
The most amazing feature of this phone is its speed. Regardless of what they call the processor, the iPhone 7 Plus is so much faster to respond that it has changed the way I use a phone. I’ve never bothered to use Siri on either of my previous iPhones because it was too slow to load and respond, and now it’s instantaneous. Apps like Chrome and Google Search seemed laggy and slow compared to built in Safari, but now they’re completely usable. The additional RAM also means apps that have been pushed to the background are unloaded less often and thus resume faster.
The Second Best Feature - Battery Life
One of the reasons I moved up from a regular sized iPhone to the 7 Plus was the battery. I had to use the Apple Smart Battery Case on my iPhone 6 in order to get through a full days usage. I’m a pretty heavy user between phone calls and apps. The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t quite have the same total battery capacity as the 6 with a battery case on (1810mAh iPhone 6 + 1877mAh Apple Smart Battery Case = 3687mAh vs. 2900mAh iPhone 7 Plus), but I regularly end the day with over 40% battery remaining. I’ve not yet managed to run the iPhone 7 Plus battery down in a single day despite similar usage. With my iPhone 6 I typically would run the entire case battery down to 0%, and have the phone itself down to 30% after a day of typical usage. That means I was running through approximately 3144mAh in a day with an iPhone 6, and about 1740mAh on an iPhone 7 Plus, even though it has a larger screen. Also, I recognize the battery on a phone will deteriorate over time, but my iPhone 6 was actually replaced recently because the original device I bought had a volume button failure, so I’m not comparing the new iPhone 7 Plus to a 2 year old iPhone 6 here. Even with the smaller capacity of an iPhone 7 battery at 1960mAh, there would be some juice left over at the end of a days usage (likely more than the above calculated 200mAh given the smaller screen size drawing less power).
Range anxiety isn’t just a problem for electric vehicle owners. How often do you come across someone who has had their smartphone run out of battery? I see it all the time, and prior to this phone had to put a lot of thought into making sure I had extra sources of power around such as portable battery packs and chargers. Finally I resorted to putting a fat heavy battery case on my iPhone 6. That significantly affected the weight and form factor of my iPhone 6 but it was better than running out of power.
The Third Best Feature - Waterproofing
I take care to keep my tech gadgets in very good condition. Walking around with a phone all day every day, there are many opportunities to get it wet. Worrying about damaging the phone detracts from the benefits of having it. From rain (which admittedly used to happen a bit more often in California than it does lately), to being near pools, to accidental spills, liquids are everywhere. I can’t overstate the improvement of the experience of phone ownership that comes from being able to not worry if the phone gets spilled on, or not having to put a big sealed case on it if I want to take it down to the hot tub in my building. The only thing they really have left to do in this area of peace of mind is make the screen fully scratch, crack and shatter proof. We’re all waiting for that day.
The camera is amazing, that’s been well reviewed. Although some of the power of the dual lens camera is held back by many apps (like Snapchat) which haven’t been updated to allow toggling between 1x and 2x zoom directly. Having a pinch/zoom function doesn’t let the user intentionally avoid digital zoom.
The key to understanding the brilliance of the iPhone 7 Plus, is recognizing that refinement can be as important as novelty. Making the phone significantly faster improves every part of the experience. Improving battery life and adding waterproofing both offer significant reductions to some of the biggest daily anxieties of using a smartphone.